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Former Fugees member Pras Michel convicted on 10 felony counts in conspiracy trial

Michel was accused of conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions using foreign funds, witness tampering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
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WASHINGTON — Pras Michel, a rapper and producer best known as a member of the ’90s hip-hop group the Fugees, was convicted on 10 felony counts Wednesday in a clean sweep for federal prosecutors.

Michel had been charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent of China, conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“We are extremely disappointed in that results and are very, very confident in the ultimate outcome of this case,” Michel’s lawyer, David Kenner, told reporters.

Michel will appeal his conviction after sentencing, Kenner said.

“This is not over. I remain very, very confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter,” he said.

No sentencing date has been set.

The charges stemmed from Michel’s relationship with a Malaysian billionaire businessman, Jho Low, who spent lavishly on an extravagant lifestyle and famous friends. Low was charged alongside Michel but has yet to be arrested, and he is considered an international fugitive. Low is separately accused of having embezzled billions from 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, from 2009 to 2014.

Michel told jurors that he accepted about $20 million in 2012 from Low, who wanted his photo taken with President Barack Obama, but that the large amounts were never intended as illegal foreign campaign contributions or as payment for Michel’s services.

He also told jurors that he gave about $800,000 to friends so they could donate in their names and gain access to exclusive, $40,000-per-seat Obama fundraisers in Miami and Washington, D.C., but he reiterated his belief that the money was his to spend.

Michel sent letters to some of those friends, after they had been contacted by the FBI, declaring that the money he gave them was a loan and warning of legal action if it was not repaid. The letters were an intimidation tactic to prevent possible witnesses from cooperating with investigators, prosecutors said. 

“In retrospect that was a dumb thing to do,” Michel told jurors about the letters.

In 2017, Michel worked with Low to lobby President Donald Trump’s administration on two goals — getting the Justice Department to drop its investigation of Low related to the 1MDB scandal and advocating on behalf of Chinese officials for the arrest and extradition of a Chinese dissident living in the U.S. 

Michel told jurors that he was never told he would have to register as a foreign agent because of that work.